TMJ, which affects the TMJ joint that connects your lower and upper jaw, can be an extremely painful condition that makes even the most normal parts of your day like talking and chewing incredibly unpleasant. Just like any other joint in the body, your TMJ can swell and become painful, which can lead to limited movement and radiating pain in your head and neck.
What causes TMJ?
TMJ is most often caused by stress. Many people unknowingly clench their teeth when they’re feeling stressed, which puts a lot of tension on the TMJ joint and surrounding muscles. Stress can also lead to teeth grinding at night, which irritates the muscles around the joint and can cause a lot of swelling. Sometimes, TMJ is caused by things like teeth misalignment, overuse, or an injury.
How do I know if I might have TMJ?
Symptoms of TMJ often include:
- Frequent headaches or neck pain
- Jaw clicking or popping when opening and closing your mouth
- Difficulty moving the joint — sometimes even to the point of locking
- Muscle tenderness around the joint
A dental examination can help check the joints and muscles for inflammation to confirm that any of these symptoms are being caused by TMJ.
How is TMJ treated?
Some cases of TMJ can simply be treated the way you would treat any other joint pain — heat or ice on the joint, rest, and an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen. You can also use common techniques like breathing exercises and meditation to decrease levels of stress if you think that your tension could be stress-related. If your TMJ could be caused by overuse, you can avoid things like chewing gum or eating sticky foods.
When cases of TMJ are more severe, a dentist can recommend some exercises to strengthen the jaw muscles, prescribe stronger medication to help relax the muscles and make them less inflamed, or even create a night guard or bite plate to help eliminate clenching and grinding at night to give the joint the opportunity to relax and heal.
Whether your symptoms of TMJ are mild or more severe, it’s always a good idea to get professional advice from a dentist so you can identify and treat the cause of the pain before it gets worse.